Sam Altman is destroying trust in OpenAI with WorldCoin

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Disclaimer: The views expressed below are solely those of the author.

Silicon Valley leaders are not among the most trusted people in the world, even though millions of people use their products and services; But I have to say that no one was more intent on tarnishing ChatGPT’s reputation than Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, creator of ChatGPT.

Usually, hatred and mistrust comes only after you achieve billionaire status, leading a huge tech company worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and even the late Steve Jobs had millions of critics.

Sam, however, has decided not to wait and become the Bay Area’s latest bad guy before he starts thinking about an OpenAI IPO (he currently has no plans).

Sam Altman scans his irises in Warsaw, May 24, 2023 / Image credit: Twitter @sama

Perhaps emboldened by the success of ChatGPT and the increased interest in OpenAI, he brought his other pet project out of the closet, pulling Worldcoin out of beta in July of 2023, hoping that it too would ride the same wave of popularity.

But what exactly is Worldcoin?

It’s a strange and unsettling mix of crypto, blockchain and personal identity, organized using rather dystopian-looking devices called orbs, which the company launched in dozens of locations around the world to scan the irises of all willing participants.

Their purpose is to generate an encrypted, anonymous proof-of-personhood in the form of a unique hash of your iris that can then be verified using the WorldCoin blockchain via the WorldID app on your phone, creating a zero-knowledge proof, allowing you to be confirmed. You are a real person without revealing who you really are.

WorldCoin Orb on display in Lisbon, Portugal / Image Credit: WorldCoin

In theory, the protocol and app act as an anonymous, digital passport, granting you access to services on the Internet (assuming you choose to use them), proving that you are indeed a unique human being. And no sophisticated AI bot (goodbye, pesky captcha!).

In other words, Worldcoin is sold as a solution to a problem created in the first place by companies like OpenAI (although it may be acceptable if its net contribution is positive and provides protection against a deluge of AI-generated spam).

The biggest problem is that what WorldCoin has done instills confidence or trust, which should be the cornerstone of what such a company does.

Not only is the concept dubious – why would you allow a relatively unknown company to scan your eyes directly on location when Face ID is available in your phone today? — but its execution befits a Bond villain.

The company launched in 2019, originally as just a crypto project, with the aim of trying to create a parallel digital economy powered by cryptocurrency that all humans would be entitled to a part of. He then began adding personal identification features, creating the Orb as a gateway, ultimately proving that a real human being was using WorldCoin to access the token.

The company boasted of signing up roughly two million users during the beta, which has now reached 16 million since its launch six weeks ago. This may seem like a lot until you realize how many of these sign-ups were received.

During the beta (and in some countries after that), the company operated about 30 Orbs globally, not only in places in the US and the European Union, but also up and down Africa like India, Indonesia and Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda or Zimbabwe (where Banks can’t even process crypto transactions), their local representatives lure people with US$20 worth of free WorldCoin crypto, as well as trade and gadgets, and unproven promises of high returns in the future. .

Unsurprisingly, these promises led to long queues of mostly poor people, hoping to benefit from an unexpected outcome, in exchange for an iris scan by a company with no established track record and no existing use case.

Queues for Worldcoin Venues in Kenya / Image Credit: Citizen TV Kenya via YouTube

Contrary to the company’s assurances, its representatives – even though they were effectively only subcontractors and not actual employees – often collected participants’ names, phone numbers or email addresses. So much for “Anonymous”.

I may not remember everything in the world, but I believe this will be the first time any significant IT service has started to focus on building a user base using a decidedly underhanded strategy to target the poorest people in the third world. Post-pandemic fallout instead of hipster influencers in Palo Alto.

why so

Image credit: Citizen TV Kenya, YouTube

Perhaps, this is because some people in the developed world eagerly allow strangers to scan their eyes to access an app that has no real function yet in exchange for a few bucks in a crypto that was expected to launch in just a few defined years. the future

It would not be an exaggeration to say that those of us living in affluent societies have enormous privacy concerns given the extent to which our actions are being tracked on the Internet.

Reports of dystopian systems like smart, person-recognizing cameras in China, where a digital social credit system is being rolled out, designed to penalize or reward you for your behavior, certainly don’t help.

Image credit: Decrypt

Did WorldCoin decide to target the third world with its glowing orbs knowing that privacy values ​​and concerns are so low there?

Like companies buying fake followers on social media to appear popular, WorldCoin seems to have set off a snowball effect, making bold claims of onboarding millions of people to get skeptics in Europe and the US to sign up (possibly even starting a rally in the project’s affiliated currency).

If this is the plan, the world’s mass media don’t seem to have done their job, at least this time, by reporting on the company’s questionable practices, prompting the suspension of WorldCoin in Kenya by local regulators. , many checks in Europe, and not much enthusiasm in the West or developed Asia, while the coin itself has lost more than half its value since launch.

WorldCoin tokens are down from US$2 at launch to US$1.09 as of this writing on September 11, 2023 / Image Credit: CoinMarketCap

Fish head stinks

But now the more important question is – should the person who has devised this plan be in charge as one of the leading developers of AI solutions that could soon dominate many areas of our lives?

Self-help coaches like to say that “how you do anything is how you do everything,” and this is probably an exaggeration, considering that it can apply to at least one domain of a person’s activity — e.g. doing business.

I find it hard to believe that any person would run one company differently than another.

And while Altman isn’t strictly speaking the CEO of Worldcoin (or its actual developer, Tools for Humanity), he is the president of Tools for Humanity and co-founded the project with Alex Bania, who is its current chief executive.

Of course, OpenAI’s CEO is one of the driving forces behind it, and yet over the years, the company has been busy breaking local laws, stalking vulnerable third-world audiences and trying to recruit the highly questionable to scan their irises. Promises — especially the lack of a real-life use case for a global ID.

If he is involved in “growth hacking”, can we really trust him not only with our private data, but also with how the AI ​​developed by his other company will affect our lives, the veracity of the information it provides? And doesn’t anyone use it as a propaganda tool, to provide predetermined answers to politically and socially sensitive questions?

Finally, even at this stage, ChatGPT’s responses to certain categories of questions about politics or social affairs are clearly biased, leading some to suspect that it could have been manipulated by humans to produce the desired output.

We may be entering the age of AI, but it seems that who designs it still matters a lot.

Featured image credit: Tools for Humanity /

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